So far in our blog posts we’ve covered a few different pieces of hardware to help you climb your best. We’ve also gone over climbing gym etiquette, so you feel as comfortable as possible in what can be an intimidating environment. Now let’s touch on one of the most important tools you need in your bag of climbing tricks: your mind.
YOU MAD BRO?
We all know how it feels to fail over and over again on a project, whether inside or outside. It sucks! And the more it happens, the better it feels to become angry and curse whatever lies closest to you. That includes your friends, cowering in fear from your guttural outbursts; chalk bags and climbing shoes, which seem to fly impossibly far when you kick them, unbound by the laws of gravity; or the climb itself, which stares back at you with dead eyes, cold and inanimate. It feels so good to puff up your chest, scream, and feel the RAGE.
All this rage fuels your psych, and helps you send! Right?
If anything, the anger and emotion you feel clouds your judgment, leading to a lapse in focus. This will throw you into a perpetual cycle of failure and neverending fury. Eventually your anger melts away into despair and hopelessness. Sound familiar?
Don’t let your ego get in the way of your abilities. Just stay calm. The sooner you understand that failure will outweigh all of your success in climbing by a HUGE margin – especially when you are just beginning – the better off you’ll be. Even professionals who train their bodies to the extreme still experience failure more often than success when climbing at their limit. It’s nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s a sign that you’re pushing yourself - something to be proud of.
I reached a mental breakthrough five or six years ago. After years of emotional outbursts (aka “wobblers” – see our “What is Good Climbing Etiquette?” post for more on this) and debilitating anger towards myself and my perceived lack of climbing prowess, I reached a point where I wasn’t enjoying the sport as much as I used to. I hit a crossroads: quit climbing, or find a way to get past my mental barriers. Needless to say, quitting seemed pretty feasible. But no! Instead, I told myself over and over again that nothing I believed to be important actually mattered. I just let go.
I immediately started having more fun at the gym and at the crag. Rather than chasing hard grades, I looked for fun climbs with good movement. Each flowy sequence was like a little massage for my overly-stressed mind. The anger dissipated. My climbing ego – blown up like an overinflated balloon – popped.
CLIMB – FAIL – PROGRESS – CHOOSE
These days I’m way more picky about which climbs I want to try. I will walk away from a climb if it’s giving me problems. As soon as I feel that familiar well of anger start bubbling up inside me, I move on. I don’t see it as quitting; I’m simply shifting focus. I know for a fact that I will enjoy climbing something fun and doable over failing repeatedly on something that is going to make me miserable.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fine line between knowing yourself and knowing your weaknesses. Try everything – crimp lines, slopers, dynos, traverses, whatever. Avoid the pitfall of neglecting styles you’re bad at. Once you’re well-rounded enough to make logical choices about your climbing preferences, then go ahead and make them.
Of course, I have so far neglected to mention the process of projecting climbs here in my argument. Working the hell out of a route or a boulder is a completely different beast. It usually involves 90% failure, 5% complete and utter hopelessness, 4% injuries, and 1% success. But the mental practice of staying calm still applies. As long as you make even the smallest step of progress on your project, you should be content. If baby steps don’t satisfy you, then you may want to reconsider a life of climbing. Try to accept any progress and move forward. Eventually, you’ll find yourself slowly getting stronger – physically and mentally. Soon you’ll be standing atop your old projects, asking yourself how the hell you got there.
In conclusion, I will say that the method of staying calm and letting go will probably not work for everyone. Some people thrive on pain and rage – though I’ve not met many people like this. Those I have known I have avoided, since they’re unpleasant to be around in any climbing scenario. If you find yourself getting emotional more often than is probably healthy, I suggest trying the technique I’ve outlined. Accept your failures in the sport of climbing with grace; move on from climbs that don’t inspire you; and when you do get shut down by an inspiring climb, accept the fact that one day, with time, you will be able to climb it. Then calmly work towards that goal.
Best of luck in gaining control of your mental game. Remember, not everyone can have Chris Sharma’s zen-like inner peace and freakish gorilla strength. Take your time.
In the words of the legendary Morpheus: “I'm trying to free your mind, Neo.” ;)
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